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The first three decades of the twentieth century saw the largest period of immigration in U.S. history. This immigration, however, was accompanied by legal segregation, racial exclusionism, and questions of residents’ national loyalty and commitment to a shared set of “American” beliefs and identity. The faulty premise that homogeneity—as the symbol of the “melting pot”—was the mark of a strong nation underlined nativist beliefs while undercutting the rich diversity of cultures and lifeways of the population. Though many authors of the time have been viewed through this nativist lens, several texts do indeed contain an array of pluralist themes of society and culture that contradict nativist orientations.
In The Pluralist Imagination from East to West in American Literature, Julianne Newmark brings urban northeastern, western, southwestern, and Native American literature into debates about pluralism and national belonging and thereby uncovers new concepts of American identity based on sociohistorical environments. Newmark explores themes of plurality and place as a reaction to nativism in the writings of Louis Adamic, Konrad Bercovici, Abraham Cahan, Willa Cather, Paul Laurence Dunbar, Charles Alexander Eastman, James Weldon Johnson, D. H. Lawrence, Mabel Dodge Luhan, and Zitkala-Ša, among others.
This exploration of the connection between concepts of place and pluralist communities reveals how mutual experiences of place can offer more constructive forms of community than just discussions of nationalism, belonging, and borders.
“Julianne Newmark leads us back in time to multiethnic authors who thought deeply and creatively about some of the seemingly intractable racialized rhetorics that still bedevil us today. This is a timely, beautiful, and ultimately hopeful book, one that has much to say about larger public conversations surrounding American identity, how we read the past, and how we build coalitions across racial and ethnic lines.”—Siobhan Senier, editor of Dawnland Voices: An Anthology of Indigenous Writing from New England